The NCAA was expected to make a definitive decision on fall sports championships Tuesday. A day later, it made its decision. Sort of.
In a statement released Wednesday, the NCAA board of governors released guidelines for how programs are to proceed with fall sports in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. These included guaranteeing scholarships to student-athletes who opt out of the season, though divisions must determine what this means for future eligibility by Aug. 14.
As for fall sports and championships, the NCAA left it up for the respective divisions to decide by Aug. 21 whether to hold the seasons and championship events.
But, if 50% or more of eligible teams in a given sport in a division cancel their fall season, the NCAA fall championship in that division will automatically be canceled.
The threshold extends to all fall sports except for football, as the football championships are not organized or hosted by the NCAA.
“The first and most important consideration is whether sports can be conducted safely for college athletes,” Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and University of California system president, said in a statement. “Each division must examine whether it has the resources available to take the required precautions given the spread of COVID-19.”
In the spring, the NCAA made the decision to cancel all championship events that remained for the 2019-20 academic year. This included the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and the track and field indoor championships, which had already convened in Albuquerque prior to its cancellation.
Soon after, all conferences followed suit and ended their ongoing seasons without any closure.
This time around, the potential cancellation of fall sports championships does not mean the seasons for the various sports will not be played. Teams can still play their regular seasons and conference championship games. Rather, there will be no national championship events hosted by the NCAA.
Many conferences have already announced plans not to have fall sports this year in the wake of the pandemic, including the Big West, Ivy League and Atlantic 10. Some of these conferences left open the possibility of playing fall sports in the spring if conditions nationally improve.
In Wednesday’s statement, the NCAA announced it will establish a hot line for athletes, parents or others to report failures to comply with safety guidelines. The NCAA will then notify school and conference officials so they can take action.
“Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs — on the health and safety of college athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “Student-athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so. These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall.”